Published on April 1, 2014.
A specter is haunting the extreme Left in the Philippines: the specter of irrelevance. We can glimpse it, not so much in the startling arrest of Benito Tiamzon, the chair of the Communist Party of the Philippines and chief of the CPP’s armed wing, the New People’s Army, with his wife Wilma, in a textbook-perfect operation in Cebu on March 22, as in smaller acts of reality-denying desperation.
Let me highlight three such gestures.
But first, a few qualifications. As I wrote last October, in “The pork barrel and the Left,” we can find “various shades of red in the political spectrum, but for the sake of argument I will adopt the convention in use in many newsrooms and identify the Philippine Left as those associated with the National Democratic Front.”
Also, and as I have noted on various occasions, I have voted for Bayan Muna candidates for senator in the past; I continue to believe that active political engagement must be encouraged as a viable alternative to the armed struggle, and that leftist politicians of experience and learning can raise the quality of political discourse in the Senate.
Not least, I think Philippine society would be worse off if the Left became irrelevant, highly vocal but entirely ineffective players on the margins. For one thing, the great cancer of Philippine society is growing inequality; corruption is only a symptom. A movement that takes its bearings in part from Karl Marx should have something distinct to offer—if not in substance (capitalism and the class structure) then in analytical rigor (subjecting assumptions to a critique). For another, political pluralism is or should be society’s ideal; the more voices take part, the stronger the polity would be.
But the Left in the Philippines has only itself to blame, for its slide to irrelevance. Three proofs-in-the-making.
Conspiracy theory. Stung by criticism that it was soft on China, the traditionally Maoist Left has recently taken to issuing stronger statements against the Chinese government’s increasingly aggressive conduct in the West Philippine Sea. “Stronger” is relative, though. The most that Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares can say in a recent statement is a diplomatic rap on the knuckles: China’s “provocative actions should also be avoided so that tensions would not run high.” In other words, there is no condemnation, no sense of outrage.
In contrast, in the very same press statement, Colmenares publicizes what amounts to a conspiracy theory: “We also know that China’s actions have only escalated when the US announced its pivot to the Asia Pacific to countercheck China’s growth and reassert its dominance in the region. As it is, everything should be taken into perspective and the Aquino government should stop its blind assumption that the supposed Agreement on Enhanced Defense Cooperation (AEDC) with the US would be to our advantage. There are also indications that the current situation is being engineered to ensure the signing of the treaty.” In other words, the United States engineered the latest Chinese outrage in Ayungin Shoal so that the Philippines, which requested the AEDC, would be forced into signing it.
It is unthinking, ideologically driven statements like these that strain the Left’s credibility among ordinary Filipinos. I suppose the unremitting criticism of the United States (Colmenares: “China may be a threat but we however consider the US as the main threat”) does not go down well with a mostly pro-American public, but I think it is the loopy logic of such statements that drives reasonable people away.
Lightning rally. Last Thursday, a group of about a hundred NDF-allied demonstrators staged a lightning rally in Manila, the third in as many days; unfortunately, a larger group of Muslims was already in Mendiola, in the middle of the reading of the Koran, when the leftist militants arrived. The Muslims were celebrating the peace treaty between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which was to be signed later that day; the militants wanted to mark the 45th anniversary of the NPA.
As best as I can figure it out from Noel Alamar’s on-the-scene reporting (it’s on YouTube), it was a group of Muslims who crossed the street and charged at the militants—but only after they had been provoked by what the Muslims must have thought were deliberate acts of disrespect. The police counted 10 militants injured.
The NDF later released a statement which, while condemning “a few provocateurs from the Bangsamoro protesters,” theoretically laid the blame on the government’s doorstep. “We also do not set aside the possibility that the violence was provoked by agents of the Philippine National Police and the government’s intelligence group as the attackers came from beside the watching police forces and uniformed state intelligence personnel.”
Again, this is the sort of ideological drivel which does not win any new friends or influence people. (Tired rhetoric even fills in its own blanks; the Muslims were not protesting, therefore could not be “Bangsamoro protesters.”) And why, if the NDF “meant no disrespect to our Bangsamoro brothers and sisters,” did they attempt to drown out the ongoing pro-Bangsamoro program on the very day of the signing?
Pork barrel scam. Last October, I thought that the Left would find in the pork barrel scam a new lease on political life, but it has since become clear to me that it has in fact lost its way. Instead of clarifying the issue, it has sought to muddle it by conflating the documented acts of plunder committed between 2007 and 2009 with alleged corruption through the Disbursement Acceleration Program. (As the Left ought to know, attrition is effective strategy.) Apparently, the anti-Aquino line trumps everything else—one more proof of, and reason for, a looming irrelevance.